New neighborhood council committee aims to cut through the weeds of complex city regulations

By Kelby Vera

Venice’s inaugural Cannabis Town Hall featured (from left) Think and Grow Lab’s Sherri Franklin, Alexander Freedman of the L.A. City Attorney’s Office, L.A. Department of Cannabis Regulation Executive Director Cat Packer, and NORML chapter director Bruce Margolin

The legal commercial sale of recreational cannabis is hardly a cut-and-dried situation, prompting local governments throughout California to establish complex regulatory frameworks for implementing state law.

After the passage of Proposition 64 legalized adult possession as sale, L.A. voters passed city Measure M in 2017 to give the L.A. City Council full authority to license and regulate cannabis activity through a new city bureaucracy that decides who can sell cannabis and where it can be sold.

In Venice Beach — long a bellwether for international pot culture, legal or otherwise — the local neighborhood council has now formed a dedicated ad hoc committee to help community stakeholders on all sides of the issue cut through the weeds.

The Venice Neighborhood Council’s Cannabis Committee held its inaugural public Cannabis Town Hall on Tuesday at Animo High School, with about 40 people turning out to hear a wide-ranging panel discussion about how Los Angeles is implementing and enforcing the laws that govern the sale of cannabis.

The panel featured Cat Packer, executive director of the city’s Department of Cannabis Regulation; attorney Bruce Margolin, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law’s regional Los Angeles chapter; Ann Lawrence, owner of the Rose Collective on Rose Avenue; Alexander Freedman of the L.A. City Attorney’s Office’s Cannabis Law Section; Sherri Franklin, cofounder of the cannabis startup accelerator Think And Grow Lab; and Aaron Riley, president of the L.A.-based product testing lab CannaSafe.

“Cannabis is not new to Venice,” Packer said. “Cannabis is not new to the city of Los Angeles. But what is new are the standards that businesses have to follow and the responsibilities that we all have now as a community to figure this process out.”

While Packer’s office implements the bulk of new regulations, she said the watchful eyes and careful buying habits of community members is essential to making the system actually work. Locals can do their part by recognizing, avoiding and reporting illegal establishments — including those with transactions that do not include taxes, or that stay open between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. And although abundant and popular, Packer warned that a majority — if not all — delivery services are not in compliance with Los Angeles city law.

Lawrence said businesses like her Rose Collective, which is licensed to serve both medical and recreational users, welcome the regulations as a way to both legitimize and standardize their industry.

“For us, regulation is a great thing because it gives us the ability to make sure the products we have on our shelves are safe,” she said. “We have the means to ensure that we’re providing the environment we want to provide.”

Cultivating legitimacy also means standardizing products, CannaSafe’s Riley explained.

“There’s not another consumer product that’s tested with this many tests,” he said. “Food has microbial and pesticide [tests], but the consolidated amount of tests for cannabis is unique to cannabis.”

Think And Grow Labs’ Franklin praised L.A. for including a social equity program to redress disproportional impacts of cannabis criminalization among low-income and minority communities. In many circumstances, new recreational sales license applicants must include investors who have lived five or 10 years in “disproportionally impacted areas” of the city.

“I would venture to say that this social equity program in and of itself is innovation. It’s innovation in creating small businesses and in giving [chances to] people who haven’t had an opportunity to become a viable business,” she said. “It’s something that could be applied to many other industries.”

The VNC Cannabis Committee, which meets the first Tuesday of each month in the Extra Space Storage Community Room on Venice Boulevard, has petitioned L.A. City Hall to include Venice as a disproportionately impacted area due to its historically high levels of marijuana-related arrests. A city report recommended excluding Venice, however, because a large number of those arrested in Venice for marijuana-related crimes between 2000 and 2016 didn’t actually live in Venice.

NORML’s Margolin cautioned against broadly describing the new cannabis laws as “legalization” because so much cannabis-related activity is still considered illegal.

“We call it legalization, but I think it’s better to call it regulation,” he said. “You smoke in your car: $250 fine. You have it in your car: $100 fine. You smoke it outside: forget it. … It’s not fair; it ain’t just. We have a long way to go.”